28 March, 2017 by katelaity
‘His lover!’ I must say I was astonished. I knew that there were those silly people in the past who made such outrageous claims. Heavens, but they were deluded. ‘Good heavens. Why would a women want to love the devil?’
‘Now I really wonder how terrible her husband was,’ Tansy said with a frown that was most unbecoming. I hated to see her frown for it generally meant that she would do something unpredictable—like set off on this mad journey.
‘I’m not sure I see the connection.’
Dunbar laughed. ‘I do. A woman in an unhappy union may at least dream of a lover to take her away. Perhaps an imaginary lover would be the best of all as he might never disappoint.’ Both he and Tansy laughed at that, but I felt as if I ought to stand up for my sex.
‘I do not see that a bad husband must lead to a silly wife. Surely if she were silly on her own no husband need provoke her. She brought it on herself.’ I sat back, arms folded, feeling as if I had quitted the argument quite well.
‘If she were silly, would a wise husband have married her?’ Tansy asked, one eyebrow arched in that derisive manner I knew so well.
‘It has not been unknown.’
‘Then he cannot be very wise.’ Tansy smirked in the way she always suggested triumph though I was not keen to admit it.
‘In any case,’ Dunbar said firmly, for he did not wish to be distracted from his story, ‘that is what she claimed before the men who gathered to examine her that day in the parish church of Aulderne. I am descended from two of them.’ Whether he offered that for pride or veracity it was difficult to ascertain.
‘Of course they were all men,’ Tansy muttered but did not do more to interrupt the tale.
‘She claimed to have been his lover among the ruins of the old castle, to have been baptised anew as his follower and then to have engaged in magical workings with a gathering of thirteen souls which they called a coven.’
‘Ah yes, the number thirteen is often seen to have a mystical resonance.’ Tansy knew a great deal about odd esoteric subjects that would probably make her at home in very odd circles, but I was not one to associate with Gothic revivalists and novelists. ‘What kinds of workings did they do?’
‘They attacked a neighboring farm, raising an unbaptized child’s corpse—’
‘Oh what horror!’ I could barely stomach such a notion and took a hasty drink of my whisky. It made me shiver.
‘Indeed,’ Dunbar agreed, though I could see Tansy’s eyes shining with an unhealthy interest in this madness. ‘They also took clippings of their hair and nails and whatnot, mixed it all together and buried in this farmer’s field and from that day forth it bore no crops and the poor man went into debt and finally lunacy.’
‘Magical revenge, how interesting,’ Tansy said, making a memorandum about this strange tale.
‘You aren’t going to keep notes on this,’ I said. ‘Or should I worry about your extracting vengeance on some unfortunate club member?’
Tansy grinned. ‘I rule out nothing from possibility. Tell us more,’ she begged Dunbar, who was only too happy to oblige.
‘They would steal corn at Lammas and use it to transfer the crops to their own farms from other rivals. Then there was the pudduck-plough—’
‘A what?’ Tansy and I asked at the same time.
‘A frog, that is, to you southerners,’ Dunbar said with a wink. ‘They yoked it to a plough made of a ram’s horn and ran it through the fields to sow thistles and brambles in the devil’s name.’
‘And did her husband not notice her absence in the night as she cavorted with her coven,’ I could not help asking. I was beginning to suspect that we had indeed reached the end of our quest for it was hard to imagine anything much more absurd.
‘He did not notice her absence for she put a besom in her place which he took for her form.’
‘A besom? Is that a kind of poppet?’ Tansy asked.
‘Ah, no. It’s a broom.’
‘Good heavens!’ I did not know what else to say.